Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism
If you read the history of Akhenaten, the record does not even begin to explain what motivated one man to undertake the Herculean task of initiating a mass shift of the collective consciousness from polytheism to monotheism. He unseated an entire pantheon of Egyptian Gods; up-rooted thousands of years of Egyptian social customs and religious traditions; lifted 600 hundred generations out of the Bronze Age superstitions into an Iron Age of monotheism. In that process he had a direct influence on the modern consciousness of the world we know today.
How and why did he do it?
This raises serious questions that are not answered in superficial archaeological reports. The transition from polytheism to monotheism was a pivotal and necessary moment in the evolution of human consciousness, Just as it was from Animism to Shamanism, We face a 5th Mass Shift of the collective consciousness to day- as science forces us to transition from Iron Age Scriptural dogmas towards a more ontological perception of Cosmic Consciousness. By not engaging in a more comprehensive research of of each of our earlier mass shifts, we are left scrambling today trying to make the transition into a global society, with our troublesome differences between science and religion, and between religions themselves, on who and what is God, focused on the same Godhead.
Below are the known facts about Akhenaten. Thereafter I will fill in more of the blanks.
Akhenaton, Ikhnaton, and Khuenaten; meaning “Effective for Aten”) known before the fifth year of his reign as Amenhotep IV (sometimes given its Greek form, Amenophis IV, and meaning Amun is Satisfied), was a pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt who ruled for 17 years and died perhaps in 1336 BC or 1334 BC. He is especially noted for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship centered on the Aten, which is sometimes described as monotheistic or henotheistic. An early inscription likens the Aten to the sun as compared to stars, and later official language avoids calling the Aten a god, giving the solar deity a status above mere gods.
Akhenaten tried to bring about a departure from traditional religion, yet in the end it would not be accepted. After his death, traditional religious practice was gradually restored, and when some dozen years later rulers without clear rights of succession from the Eighteenth Dynasty founded a new dynasty, they discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as “the enemy” in archival records.
He was all but lost from history until the discovery, in the 19th century, of Amarna, the site of Akhetaten, the city he built for the Aten. Early excavations at Amarna by Flinders Petrie sparked interest in the enigmatic pharaoh, whose tomb was unearthed in 1907 in a dig led by Edward R. Ayrton. Interest in Akhenaten increased with the discovery in the Valley of the Kings, at Luxor, of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, who has been proved to be Akhenaten’s son according to DNA testing in 2010. A mummy found in KV55 in 1907 has been identified as that of Akhenaten. This man and Tutankhamun are related without question, but the identification of the KV55 mummy as Akhenaten has been questioned.
Modern interest in Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti, comes partly from his connection with Tutankhamun, partly from the unique style and high quality of the pictorial arts he patronized, and partly from ongoing interest in the religion he attempted to establish.
Prior to Akhenaten, no major or minor culture on Earth had ever entertained a monotheistic theological ideology. Prior to nationalization of the clans, all the previous tens of thousands of clan structures of the Bronze Age had their own ancestral spiritual totemic systems of Gods and personal mythologies. Upon national federation (usually attained via genocidal war) victorious clan chieftains took the throne and assumed paramouncy. Their own totemic and ancestral mythologies were incorporated as a pantheon of State-supported religious idols who were worshipped as Gods- thus establishing Divine succession. Royal dynasties survived because their subjects believed their rulers were earthly manifestations of God. Their Divinity was supported by the priesthood.
In Egypt this Divine relationship was gradually entrenched by generations of tradition. In those more primitive eras of intellectual growth, and superstitious belief, before Scriptural dogmas were challenged by science, no one ever questioned the Divinity of the Pharaoh, or dared blasphemed against the Gods. Geb, Nut. Shu. Isis. Nephys. Horus. They were worshipped in thousands of magnificent temples, monuments and tombs erected in their honor at Karnak, Luxor, Thebes, Edfu and Dendera, Each temple served by a host of priests, priestesses and scribes, served the cities along the length of Nile Valley. Polytheism practised in state temples and home shrines, formed the social and spiritual structure of Egyptian culture. Thus Throne and Altar, bound by generations of tradition and customs, working together from one dynasty to the next, supported the administrative structure and power of the Egyptian State.
Akhenaten over-turned that collective state of consciousness. He banished all their Gods and proclaimed Aten, the Sun, as the only God of Egypt. If we are to translate the enormity of the mind-shift he set out to accomplish and put it into a modern context, that would be the same has banishing all of our scientific disciplines, proclaiming them to be false and asking all of us to bow to a new order of consciousness.
Akhenaten’s reign lasted only 17 years. Not nearly enough to establish and entrench monotheism. A new dynasty replaced his line of succession (His only son, Tutenkhamen was most certainly assassinated, probably by poison. King Tut’s mummy showed him to be only 18)
The new Pharaoh reverted back to the security of the ancient traditions. Re proclaiming himself as God on Earth. The priesthood hastily followed his lead and took back their old temples. All the old house-hold shrines were taken off the shelves,dusted off and placed on their altars. And so polytheism returned to Egypt.
As said, many serious questions remain.
What spiritual impulse forced Amenhotep to change his name to Akhenaten and be motivated enough to risk his Dynastic line to such a revolutionary change of consciousness?
How did monotheism survive his death and eventually spread around the world.?
Is it possible, if not probable, that Akhenaten had a profound personal experience of spiritual Enlightenment with the Sun?
The answer to the second tho also possible, is perhaps more speculative. The Jewish Old Testament places Abraham as living around that same period – possibly seeking sanctuary under Akhenaten.
While in Egypt, did Abraham realize that a monotheistic religion could be the recipe that could unite the tribes of Israel into a single force? Perhaps he also had a personal moment of Divine inspiration with Almighty God, As the patriarch of Judaism, Abraham made a Covenant with God, to be eventually enshrined in an Ark and placed on the altar of Israel’s holiest Temple.
Eventually, via the New Testament, monotheism replaced polytheism in Greece and Rome and via Roman Catholic missions, spread the doctrine of monotheism around the Christian world,
Fifteen centuries later, Galileo, then Newton, then Darwin, engaged religious consciousness in a scientific Protest, undermining monotheism and set the world on an atheistic course.
Then Einstein challenged Newton and we are left today in confusion – arguing about the origins of consciousness.
Which came first?
How did consciousness manifest out of star dust?
Why did it?
What is its purpose?